Friday, December 26, 2008

Review: He Said Yes by Patricia Waddell

Title: He Said Yes
Series: Gentleman's Club
Author: Patricia Waddell
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: September 1, 2003
Publisher: Zebra
ISBN: 0821775006
ISBN-13: 9780821775004


Evelyn Dennsworth may not be entitled to use the word "lady" in front of her name, but that doesn't stop her from behaving like one. Even a vicar's daughter turned Bond Street shop girl can rise above her meager beginnings if she tries hard enough--unless her temperamental employer decides that she has stolen a noblewoman's brooch.

Marshall Bedford, Marquis of Waltham, is a man surrounded by women. Namely, his stepmother and his two sisters, one of whom is about to be launched into society. Yet, adding another female to his life is appealing--especially if she is lovely, charming, and kissable. A shop girl may not be quite what he had in mind, but he can't allow the prison wagon to haul away the frightened young woman he saw in the couturier's boutique. Especially when he suspects that her only act of thievery will be stealing his heart...

My rating:

Marshall Bedford, Marquis of Waltham, is growing restless with having to chaperon his younger sister Winnifred during her first London season. In order to break the tedium, he decides to get himself a mistress and is about to subtly inquire with his friends for some suitable names, when he stumbles (literally) over a beautiful shop girl on Bond Street.

Evelyn Dennsworth is not like most (all other) shop girls in London. Her poise, grace, and manners hint at some deeper education. She is in fact a vicar's daughter, working in Bond Street in order to gain enough money to open her own dress shop.

Her dreams come to a stumbling halt, when one of her employer's patroness accuses her of stealing a priceless family heirloom. Dragged forcefully into the jail cart, she has no one to turn to.

That is until Marshall, who's spent the last couple of hours thinking about her and planning how to turn her into his mistress, gallantly comes to her rescue...

This was an extremely pleasurable read. Unlike most other HR out there, this book doesn't pretend to be something more than it is, there is no suspenseful subplot, no mysterious villain to be conquered before the end...It is just a lovely, poignant historical romance with a great "class-defying" plot, well-developed and likable characters, and an incredible love story.

The different take on the lord-mistress ploy was refreshing to say the least. The "affair" between Marshall and Evelyn started with a damsel-in-distress rescue, proceeded with friendship and mutual understanding, developed into a steamy sexual relationship (a rare book not ruled by the cumbersome bitching-about-virginity thing - one second she was a virgin and then she was a virgin no more, clean and simple), and ended up where it was supposed to end.

Yes, I knew how it would end (we readers are supposed to know - and cheer for the couple) and still the ending was so sweet, I couldn't help but go all awwww. *big-grin*

Definitely a keeper.

P.S. I have a bone to pick with the editor, though. I'll let it slide Marshall's sister was turned into Evelyn somewhere in the middle, but there was a sentence at the end (page 307) that was just eyebrow-arch inducting.
His voice rose several octaves. Who's this guy?! Mariah Carey in disguise?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Review: Standing in the Shadows by Shannon McKenna

Title: Standing in the Shadows
Series: McClouds & Friends
Author: Shannon McKenna
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: August 1, 2004
Publisher: Brava
ISBN: 075820454X
ISBN-13: 9780758204547

Ex-FBI agent Connor McCloud can never forget the day he was set up to die at the hands of trusted friend and fellow agent Ed Riggs. Hard justice and loyalty to his badge have cost Connor what he wants most - Ed's shy, studious daughter Erin. He can never have her now, but her beauty still haunts and torments his every waking hour and his most fevered erotic dreams. But now that his old enemy Kurt Novak has returned, Connor is prepared to do anything to protect the vulnerable young woman from a killer who has vowed a brutal payback...a killer with a predator's lethal patience.

Erin has been harboring secret fantasies about Connor McCloud since she first laid eyes on him--but that was before his testimony sent her father to jail. Her world is falling apart and it's all she can do to hold her family together. But now Connor is knocking on her door, telling her she needs his protection, whether she wants it or not. He won't give up and he won't stay away. He's sworn to guard her life with his own and his fierce protectiveness awakens long-buried feelings--and a fiery sexuality deep within her soul . . .

My rating:

When Connor McCloud uncovered the real culprit (his one-time boss) behind his best friend's murder (and his own stint in a coma) in Behind Closed Doors and sent him to prison, he lost all hope in winning the girl of his dreams, Erin Riggs, said two-faced bastard's daughter.

Or did he?

Erin Riggs has been in love with Connor McCloud since she was sixteen (more than eleven years) and has never thought she had any chance whatsoever with him - especially now, that he's sent her father to prison.

But now an old enemy is stalking her (or is he?) and Connor is her only hope (or so he claims). But is Kurt Novak really on the loose? Or is that just a convenient excuse for Connor to get close to Erin? And what does Connor really want with Erin? Is he really only after her heart, or is it her very life he covets?

Great news, folks. This one is a quite an improvement since the previous book (Behind Closed Doors), although at first it seems Shannon McKenna has only changed the names and mixed up some scenes and so recycled the previously mentioned book.

But on closer inspection, it is an altogether different book, albeit closely tied to the previous one, although the pacing still has a lot to be desired. The plot mostly brakes under the weight of the numerous sex scenes. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against steamy scenes (even chapter-length ones), but there are so many and so tightly spaced, that the reader completely forgets what the story is all about in the first place.
After all, it is categorized as a contemporary romance, not erotica.

At least the romance was there (Connor and Erin did know each other for a decade) and it was evident in some scenes, but whenever I grew comfortable and quite content that at least this would be a romance (of some sort), the power-plays resurfaced. What is it with Ms. McKenna's men having to be brutes to be loved? I just don't get it.
And I loved the fact Erin had some spine of her own, although she came through as far too naive for her own good.

At least the two didn't appear as mental as Seth and Raine did, although someone was trying really hard to make everyone around them insane, Connor included.
That insanity plot was a little far-fetched if you ask me, but I've never claimed to be a criminal mastermind, so who I am to judge.

Yeah, it still isn't a great example of a novel, but a vast improvement. Once again, read at your own discretion.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Review: Behind Closed Doors by Shannon McKenna

Title: Behind Closed Doors
Series: McClouds & Friends
Author: Shannon McKenna
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: October 1, 2003
Publisher: Brava
ISBN: 0758203195
ISBN-13: 9780758203199

Every move you make ...

Surveillance expert Seth Mackey knows everything about the women that his millionaire boss toys with -- and tosses aside. Raine Cameron is something different. Night after night, Seth watches her on a dozen different video screens. Her vulnerable beauty haunts him and her fresh innocence stirs a white-hot passion that he can barely control. Raine is pure temptation, but Seth has something more important to take care of first. He's convinced that his boss, Victor Lazar, is responsible for his half-brother's murder. He cannot put his secret investigation at risk, but he can't stop wanting her -- craving her -- and soon he knows he can't let Victor have her. For Raine may be Victor's next victim...

Every breath you take ...

Raine knows she's being watched -- but no one can see the secrets in her heart. She has reasons of her own to seek revenge on Victor Lazar, and she will, despite her fear -- and the distracting presence of Seth Mackey. Though Raine has little experience with men, Seth's fiercely masculine good looks and animal sensuality stir her most erotic fantasies when she's alone...and lead her to a bold plan. Offering her body to him, surrendering totally to his ruthless desire might well push her beyond all emotional limits -- and beyond fear itself.

My rating:

Seth Mackey, a surveillance expert, is trying to settle a score with Victor Lazar, an unscrupulous tycoon, partially responsible for the death of Seth's half-brother ten months ago.

In order to get his revenge on Lazar, Seth has put the apartment of Lazar's ex-mistress under video surveillance. But that apartment is quickly occupied by Lazar's new employee, shy and timid Raine Cameron.

Despite Seth's conviction she's Lazar's new plaything, he falls for her - hard. What he doesn't know is that Raine has her own reasons for seeking Lazar out, her own agenda.

Raine suffers from recurring nightmares focused on her father's suspicious death (17 years prior). By what she's been able to deduce from this dreams is the fact her father was killed by her uncle, Victor Lazar.

When these two strangers with the same goal finally meet, there's instant attraction between them.

I still cannot fully fathom just how much this book has going wrong. Although it started promising enough, it soon got pulled under by all the unnecessary baggage Ms. McKenna thrust at it in order to make it more appealing. Less is more, Ms. McKenna, you should remember that in the future.

The major problem is with the pacing. I'm sorry, but psychoanalysis in a suspenseful erotica book is a big turn-off for me. Cut out the long, winding pages of internal monologue and inner angst-filled debates and you have yourself a decent little novel. The suspense and oodles of hot scenes are enough for me to keep the pages turning. If I wanted psychobabble, I'd read Freud, thank you very much.

Also, I had a real problem with the two leads. Most of the time Raine came off TSTL. I hate to say this, but in her description of Raine, Ms. McKenna sounded more like a man than a woman. She's created a wonderful stereotype of a woman. Blond, big-chested, shy on the outside, but real tigress in the bedroom (despite her almost virginity), and not the brightest bulb in the box. As soon as she indicated some signs of backbone-growth, Shannon McKenna pushed her into another stupid situation just to show us how braincell-free Raine really is.

Although I like an Alpha male as much as the next gal, Seth made me want to run him over with a monster truck, put it in reverse, and repeat the exercise. Apparently sex is a good substitute for social skills, because this stupid brute was all brawn and thrusting pelvis. And when he did open his mouth, other then get down on Raine, nothing overly intelligent came out, and he was just a dumb, hung brute with a possessive streak a mile wide and a chest-thumping, hips-pumping attitude.

As for the sex part - there were many of those scnenes in the book. Well, it was hot, but I got bored after a while. I don't know about you, but when I'm reading erotica, I would like some story behind the act. The sex scenes in this book seemed more like PWP to me. Although the author did try to put some emotion and even romance behind them, the power-games grew old pretty quickly.

Also, the language made me suspect that it was a man really writing this. Call me a prude, but I hate the C word for female genitalia. Maybe it's appropriate for certain scenes, but not for the entire length of the book. After a while it just made me want to gag, and it was just another porn-reference to me.

Although the suspense is more of a subtle chess-game than a real mystery, it is one of the rare good points of this book. I liked Victor Lazar, he was loads of fun in a megalomaniac-murdered kind of way. And his little stint as Cupid for his niece was quite heart-warming, again if you overlook his true motives.

So, despite the dumbest heroine (and her dumb, hung brute of a hero) I've encountered so far and the disturbing amount of internal bitching and moaning, this book is all-right, I guess (no recommendation intended - you read it at your own risk!)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Review: Predatory Game by Christine Feehan

Title: Predatory Game
Series: GhostWalkers
Author: Christine Feehan
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: February 26, 2008
Publisher: Jove
ISBN: 0515144282
ISBN-13: 9780515144284

Saber Wynter is running from her past when she meets ex-Navy SEAL and Ghostwalker Jess Calhoun. But the riddles of both their pasts are about to collide, shattering the promise of their future with the ultimate betrayal.

My rating:

Since escaping from Dr. Whitney's terrifying lab, Saber Wynter's been on the run. She finally found a haven with Jess Calhoun, but is she really safe there and is Jess really what he appears to be?

After losing use of his legs during a special op gone bad, Jess has continued his highly classified GhostWalker work. His friendship with Saber quickly grows into something deeper, yet with both their shielding abilities, they don't realize each other's enhancements.

When Saber slips, projecting her thoughts into his mind, Jess begins to wonder who she is and what she really is doing with him. Was she sent there to spy on him and kill him? Was their chance encounter truly a coincidence or are enemies conspiring behind their backs to kill them both?

I've been a die-hard fan of the GhostWalker Series since the very beginning and it is with deep regret for me to say, this book was the worst of the bunch.

At the beginning the plot was so slow and boring, really, I barely skimmed the pages to get to the more important parts. And although I liked the camaraderie and banter between Jess and Saber, and the chemistry between them was obvious, my heart just wasn't in it.

I don't know, exactly. Maybe it was because the whole book was so slow, maybe it was because of the veiled hypocrisy of the other GhostWalkers toward Saber, maybe it was because of the absurd stalker/observer ploy, but I just couldn't commit to the reading as I usually do.

Despite the fact it was the worst in the series, this book still delved a little deeper into the world of the GhostWalkers and their evil-genius creator, so it was still a worth-while read, but definitely not a keeper.

Review: Dark Possession by Christine Feehan

Title: Dark Possession
Series: Carpathians (Dark Series)
Author: Christine Feehan
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: September 30, 2008
Publisher: Jove
ISBN: 0515145351
ISBN-13: 9780515145359

Vampire Manolito De La Cruz has caught the scent of his destined lifemate in MaryAnn Delaney, an all-too-human female who'd never surrender herself to an aggressive and brutish Carpathian male. But maybe MaryAnn doesn't have a choice.

My rating:

While saving a pregnant Carpathian female, Manuel "Manolito" De La Cruz was stabbed and poisoned. He should be dead, but his brothers "held him to earth" and transported him back to South America in hope of saving him.

But something appears to have gone wrong...

MaryAnn Delaney, a counselor from Seattle, has agreed to go with the De La Cruz family into the jungle in hope of helping a brutalized young woman. But there is definitely something off with MaryAnn and is not just the fact Manolito's bound them together and she suffers from his "death".

Manolito awakens trapped between two worlds, with a foot in reality and another in a grey-strewn world filled with dead vampires. The only one who can save him is MaryAnn.

I'm a huge fan of Christine Feehan's and her Dark Series, but this book was a huge disappointment. I cannot figure why, but I just couldn't keep my concentration while reading and by the middle of the book I was bored to tears.

I just couldn't relate (not that it's possible to relate to the vampires and stuff!) to it and while the previous books pulled me into the magic world of the Carpathians and the incredible (if somewhat implausible) love stories between this dominant alphas and their kick-ass heroines, this story left me on the outskirts of the jungle, shuffling my feet.

There was no romance, no slow seduction, just a matter of fact "you are my lifemate and it is your duty to let me boink you senseless". Hmmm, I admit macho talk makes me all hot and bothered, but not in this case. It was all a little too clinical.

And I fear this book, the whole insight into the lycan society, is just another was of expanding the whole universe that's slowly ripping at the seems.

The only redeeming quality was the scene when MaryAnn first steps foot into the rain forest armed with bug-spray, pepper-spray, and sarcasm. That sure was awesome.

P.S. I'll still faithfully wait for Dimitri and Skyler's book, though.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: Dark Celebration by Christine Feehan

Title: Dark Celebration
Series: Carpathians (Dark Series)
Author: Christine Feehan
Read copy: Hardcover
Published: December 15, 2008
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
ISBN: 0425211673
ISBN-13: 9780425211670

After centuries as the prince of the Carpathians, Mikhail Dubrinsky fears he can't protect his people for long from their greatest threat: the extinction of their species at the hands of their immortal enemies--who are devising a scheme to slaughter Carpathian females. But even with his own lifemate, Raven, and their daughter, Savannah, vulnerable to the encroaching evil, Mikhail's hope is not lost.

Carpathians from around the world are gathering to join their souls and their powers to bring light to the darkness. But so too are their adversaries uniting--hunters, vampires, demons and betrayers--bringing untold dangers into the fold of the Carpathian people.

My rating:

A good "where-are-they-now" follow-up of the series with some pretty exciting glimpses into a future book (don't you think it's about time Ms. Feehan wrote Dimitri and Skyler's story?).

But what makes this such a "treat" are the recipes at the end of the book. I haven't tried them yet, but they sure look Carpathian-like (read: mouthwatering).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review: Stolen in the Night by Patricia MacDonald

Title: Stolen in the Night
Author: Patricia MacDonald

Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: July 29, 2008
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 0743269608
ISBN-13: 9780743269605

When Tess DeGraff was nine years old and on a camping trip in New Hampshire with her family, a stranger kidnapped and killed her sister Phoebe. Thanks to Tess's eyewitness testimony, a man named Lazarus Abbott was arrested and convicted for the heinous crime. But twenty years later, a test reveals that Abbott's DNA does not match that of Phoebe's murderer. Driven by her fear that she may have sent an innocent man to his death, Tess and her adopted son, Erny, return to the New Hampshire town in which it all happened years ago.

Stone Hill, New Hampshire, is still an idyllic New England town. Tess's courageous mother, Dawn, who suffered the violent loss of her daughter and the early death of her heartbroken husband, now runs the charming Stone Hill Inn. Tess's older brother, Jake, lives nearby with his wife, a local girl he fell in love with during the trial of his sister's killer. While Tess's family stands by her account of the crime, nerves are frayed throughout Stone Hill, and others in town accuse her of lying and view her as a murderer.

In a race against time to untangle the truth about her sister's murder, Tess encounters an anti-death penalty lawyer, Ben Webster, who infuriates her but who also might open her eyes and her heart; a biased police chief related to the Abbotts; and an unknown killer who has Tess and Erny in his sights.

My rating:

Twenty years ago, Tess DeGraff's older sister, Phoebe, was kidnapped from her tent, raped and brutally murdered. The only witness, Tess, recognized the man who snatched her sister, and Lazarus Abbott was sentenced to death.

Now, the DNA tests of the samples found on Phoebe's body reveal it wasn't Lazarus who murdered her and Tess is faced with the shocking realization she'd sent an innocent man to die...

Yes, judging from the back-cover blurb Patricia MacDonald should be a wonderful author, but trust me, the heiress-apparent to Mary Higgins Clark she is not.


Because the blurb is one thing and the book another. While the initial premise offers so may different angles to the story, the author chooses the most slow-moving plot of them all.

The so-called plot twists are botched up and laughable at best, the perp is evident from the first time we meet him and the main character, the one females are supposed to identify with and feel compassion for comes off too one-dimensional to make us even bother to care what happens to her.

Tess seems to be stuck at the emotional level of when her sister was kidnapped - the emotional level of a nine-year-old. She's judgmental, stubborn, prone to tantrums, draws (wrong) conclusions on a drop of a dime and never thinks before speaking. Which makes her ten-year-old adopted son the more mature of the two.

The male "lead" is a bit too of a second character to be noticed, although I suspect the author chose him in a feeble attempt at creating a romantic-subplot, that unfortunately fell through. I though the tidbit about his dead wife was completely unnecessary and just another plot-stopper more.

There are two things that made me absolutely cringe, though. One was the author's shameless exploitation of the small-town stereotypes.
But the worst one was the fact every single character with a "speaking role" at least once in the story appeared hysterical - I absolutely abhorred the ruthless and REPETITIVE abuse of the word "cry" (as in " to speak so as to be heard at a distance").

If you're looking for a thriller fix, search elsewhere. If you're only looking for something to help you sleep (a substitute for a sleeping pill), this is the stuff for you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review: The Pagan Stone by Nora Roberts

Title: The Pagan Stone
Series: Sign of Seven
Author: Nora Roberts
Read copy: Mass Market Paperback
Published: November 25, 2008
Publisher: Jove
ISBN: 0515144665
ISBN-13: 9780515144666

Years ago, after their blood brother ritual, Gage, Fox, and Caleb emerged from the woods, each with a piece of bloodstone. Now, it will become their weapon in the final fight against the demon they awakened. Winner take all...

Shared nightmares, visions of blood and fire, and random violence begin to plague the longtime friends and Quinn, Layla, and Cybil, the women bound to them by fate. None of them can ignore the fact that, this year, the demon has grown stronger—feeding off of the terror it creates. But now, the three pieces of the bloodstone have been fused back together. If only they could figure out how to use it.

A gambling man like Gage has no trouble betting on his crew to find a way. And though he and Cybil share the gift of seeing the future, that’s all they share. Were they to take their flirtation to the next level, it would be on their own terms, not because fate decreed it. But Gage knows that a woman like Cybil—with her brains and strength and devastating beauty—can only bring him luck. Good or bad has yet to be determined—and could mean the difference between absolute destruction or an end to the nightmare for Hawkins Hollow.

My rating:

Three boys who shared their birthday, Caleb, Fox, and Gage, decided to celebrate their tenth birthday at the Pagan Stone, a strange, altar-like stone in the middle of the woods surrounding Hawkins Hollow, the village where the three grew up.

A simple vow to always be friends sealed with their blood, unleashed an entity that‘s been haunting them ever since.

Every seven years, for seven days in the seventh month, the small town of Hawkins Hollow descends into madness. Strange accidents happen; neighbors turn against neighbors, husbands against wives… When the Seven is over, no one remembers anything.

Except the three blood brothers.

Now, twenty-one years later, the three boys turned men know the time might have come to end it. It has grown stronger, but so have them. And they’re not alone anymore.

This is the third, and last installment in the Sign of Seven trilogy, following Blood Brothers and The Hollow, brining the Big Evil terrorizing the small town of Hawkins Hollow to a satisfying end.

Among the three books, this one ranks up there with the first, while the second obviously suffered from the middle-book-syndrome. I loved the evolving relationships between the characters, the interaction of previous heroes and heroines with the "mega-couple" of the now.

I absolutely adored Gage (from the first book, mind you), with his bad-boy, I-don't-give-a-flying-f*** attitude, and a heart of gold. Despite all the violence and abuse he's suffered in Hawkins Hollow, he still returns, every seven years, to aid his "brothers", to aid the people that loved him when his father couldn't or wouldn't.

Cybil was just perfect for him. These two really were two peas in a pod. Free spirits with movable roots that had no idea what they were looking for until Fate made them "run off a cliff like lemmings".
And when they finally figured out what was going on it was already too late... and they didn't care anymore how "emotional ties" might disrupt their routine.

The final battle was yet another symbolic representation of the battle between good and evil, with loads of hidden meanings and messages.
The most important, no matter how hard things go, no matter if the Devil comes from Hell to get ya, "You can do it!" if you just believe in yourself, believe and trust the people who are with you when you're hip deep in crap.
It's all in the positive thinking.

Yeah, this trilogy (I'd suggest reading all three in order) is highly recommended by this reader. ;)
Granted, Nora Robert's style of narration needs some time to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, it's an enjoyable experience.